Athlete Rep Spotlight: Alison Levine – Boccia

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Alison Levine

Name: Alison Levine
Sport: Boccia
Position / Event: BC4
National team tenure: 2014 – Present
Hometown: Montreal, Que.

How did you first hear about and get involved in your sport?

I first heard about Boccia because I had played many other sports, many different para sports. So my sport previous to Boccia was wheelchair rugby, and it was Marco Dispaltro of current Boccia athlete who came to a tournament that I was volunteering at. Looking to see if there would be any players that would be eligible to be athletes for Boccia. And I was just volunteering at the time and I kind of saw him with a set of balls and wasn’t so sure, but kind of worked up the courage to go speak with him. And at first he wasn’t so sure that I’d be able to class into the sport. But then when he saw me throw a few balls, he quickly became very interested and told me that I had potential and I think six months later I was on the national team.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

Without athletes, there would be no sport. So having a Canadian sport system that isn’t solely focused on the athletes just doesn’t make sense to me. As athletes, we’re the ones that are putting our health at risk, our body at risk, doing what we do, and we do it because we love it. But we’re the pinnacle where we’re the focal point of sport.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I feel like it’s been very difficult to make any change in my sport, but I feel like I’ve set the stage for changes to be made. I feel like my organization knows that they have to put us first. I feel like while it can be really hard to see major changes, I can kind of see a switch in maybe the mentality or the thinking in terms of let’s consult with an athlete before we make decisions now instead of getting feedback after. I think it’s a very slow process, but one that’s critical and vital. And I do think that organizations and the greater sporting organization Sport Canada are starting to realize that they have no choice and they really have to be listening to the athletes.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

It’s kind of broad, but one of my favorite things is just spreading awareness about Boccia because most people don’t know the sport. And I still remember attending my first AthletesCAN forum and meeting everyone from all the different Olympic sports and Paralympic sports and some people hadn’t heard of Boccia and I was just kind of a little shy and definitely, you know, looked different than all the other athletes there. But we had a a social night where we were just playing some icebreaker games and whatnot, and I kind of just let my personality shine and that’s where I really made connections that are both to this day that were there athlete representations from from Olympic sports that I would have never had the opportunity to interact with. But most importantly, what came through that was really the networking and knowing that the issues that I face and we face in my sport seems to be pretty universal across the board of all the other sports. So being able to feel that support from fellow athletes or athletes that are now retired and being able to reach out to them and be like, Have you experienced this? And if you did, how did you manage it and do you have any advice for me?

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

Being a leader in my sport, I think the most pivotal thing is realizing that just one voice isn’t just one voice. When I speak, I can speak on behalf of my teammates. I can speak on behalf of everyone from the grassroots level all the way up to the elite level. I feel like I’m able to represent the majority of what Boccia athletes are thinking and wanting by reaching out to them, taking people’s opinions. I feel like all the times that I put myself on the line and maybe push a little bit too hard against organizations or, you know, do something that I know maybe there might be a little bit of repercussions, but this is what really needs to be said. I feel like every time I do that, I’m making those changes for maybe not the current, but definitely the next generation of athletes that are going to be coming through the system.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

As an athlete, you you have to take accountability for your sport. You have to know that you are representing it. And it’s not just for you, but it’s for the next generations of athletes coming through the system. So all the hardships and all the times where you were frustrated and thought, this makes no sense. It can make sense for the next the next generation of athletes. Your voice is a tool that you may not think makes a difference, but it creates that atmosphere of letting everyone know that this is the way things need to be. It needs to be athlete-centered. And whether you’re still in your sport or just retired or retired for a long time, you can start making those changes by getting involved. 

A lot of athletes aren’t sure about implicating themselves. They’re maybe newer to the sport or maybe they’ve been in it for a long time, but they just don’t feel that they have they don’t feel that they have a place or they feel like they don’t know enough about the system. And I have to say, when I started, I knew nothing about the system either. And I have had nothing but positive experiences of other athletes teaching me or just learning as as you go and never have I had any situations where where someone’s been like, Well, you should know that it’s always just a learning experience and we want more athletes involved. The more we are, the louder our voice is. So I say, Don’t be shy. And if you’re thinking about it or hesitating, come on in.